Category Archives: The Healthy Teacher Project

The Healthy Teacher Project – Revival

Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.

Kate Moss

I’ve been on and off with the Healthy Teacher Project for years. I made a rather stupid commitment to ride the TPT for my 36th birthday; well surprise surprise dear reader, I failed miserably in that goal. Partly due to failed planning, effort and a variety of other factors, it just didn’t happen.

I’ve fluctuated around the same weight for about 20 years now. I’m not actually going to state what that weight is, because I don’t think it’s relevant right now. Why I’m reviving the Healthy Teacher Project is due to three factors.

1. Age. I’m in my 40th year. Like Stuart Lock states in his incredibly inspiring post, I don’t want to die in middle age, and yet all the factors – weight, genetics, environment, upbringing, diet, etc – all point to that right now. I’ve still got time.

2. Image. There’s a photo of me aged 15 somewhere, and I am thin. Not just slim, but thin. Since then, all I’ve done is develop a build like James Haskell without any of the definition. I’m never going to be stick thin, and I don’t want to look like Chris Froome, but to look like I belong on a road bike would be a start.

3. Health. At about the age of 35 (give or take a couple of years) a wild youth comes back to haunt you. Within my group of friends – who are all of a similar age, i.e. late 30s – there’s gout, kidney problems, liver disease, skin complaints, IBS and all sorts of other wonderful ailments abound. Weight is a catalyst for all of these things – and is a precursor to much more worrying situations such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and so on. No thank you.

So where does this revival begin? Well if you know me at all you’ll not be shocked to know that I’ve started with reading and research. Some of this I’ll be sharing as this series progresses, but as a starting point, here are some guiding principles that I’m going to try and stick with.

1. Systems, not goals. Throughout my career I’ve always known that it is working through quality systems that successful outcomes are realised, not ambitious goals alone. In fact, according to the likes of James Clear, you can be successful without having goals – it’s the habits that make the difference. So this will mean things like

2. You can’t exercise the weight away. In earlier attempts to get healthy, I’ve relied on burning copious amounts of calories through vigorous exercise to overcome the volume of crap entering my body. This is problematic for two reasons: one, it doesn’t address the fact I’m could still be consuming a terrible diet and two, sustaining the high heart rate required over the time period needed to burn 500-1000 calories is not good for the body. So I’ll be looking to a two factor approach to my diet: calorie deficit and moderation in make up. An approach like this is recommended by the likes of Tim Ferris, and it’s also simple physics – I cycle a lot, and the effort required to move my body around the hills where I live will be a lot easier for every kilo lost. That said, this is not to say that I won’t be exercising at all; I’ve got a plan for that too, but let’s look at food and drink first.

3. Discipline. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but this one will be the hardest. A regime, and sticking to it, will be my ultimate personal challenge. Weight loss is a lifestyle, not a switch you just flick. So factoring in quality sleep, making good choices, planning in time for exercise and balancing this with a demanding job and quality time with the family is going to be a task in itself, but given the circumstances I’ve outlined above, its not something I’m above. The difference between discipline and systems is that the latter will be about establishing a routine, whilst the former is about holding myself to that routine. Anyone can build a system. Not everyone can do it. However, I’m holding myself to Cal Newport’s maxim that even a little more effort and discipline will make me much better than most. So I’m fine with that.

So, there you go. I’ll report back in a few days to bring you up to speed with how the first week has gone.

The Healthy Teacher Project: Self Defence Against Fresh Fruit

“Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard.”

Walt Whitman

Forgive me

Readers, I have a confession to make. Up until last year, I have pretty much never eaten fresh fruit. I don’t know how this scenario came about, but I remember from a very young age refusing to countenance the idea of eating an apple, or banana, or anything picked fresh from a tree, shrub or bush. Cover it in pastry, blend it into a smoothie, offer it dried or stew it for hours until it’s just ‘fruit mush’ and I might consider it.

This extended to raw vegetables too. I admitted this on Twitter, and howls of derision ensued. It is not normal. I accept that, but who doesn’t have their idiosyncrasies? Mine is just a completely mad one, that’s all.

Whenever the situation arose where fresh fruit was on offer, I’d politely refuse, only for my host to say the following:

“What, you don’t eat fruit? Not even apples/bananas/strawberries/kiwis/cherries/whatever (delete as applicable)”

No. Not even what ever fruit you think is on offer.  It’s funny, because I often countered with the fact that you don’t turn around to a vegetarian and say:

“What, you don’t eat meat? Not even wafer thin ham?”

I know it’s different. I know I was basically denying my body nature’s goodness, especially considering my vegetable intake could be described as ‘minimal’. As I say, I don’t know how it started. What’s equally bonkers is the fact that a) my mum worked on a fruit and veg stall in her youth and b) my step-dad also worked in the fruit and veg business for a long time too. Yet, somehow, their beloved son considered the riches of the harvest as Satan’s own.

How Times Change

Like most of my foibles, this whole situation was bludgeoned into submission by my darling wife, who through what must have been a process of detailed cognitive behavioural therapy and meta-analysis (or in her words, ‘without pissing about’) has got me to start eating fresh fruit. After 33 years. It took 6 years to break my spirit, but she managed it.

Her point was simple. I want my daughter to be fit, healthy, strong and successful. How will she know the right way to go about this if we don’t model this for her? I can’t expect her to tuck into a banana for dessert whilst I’m packing away half a tub of Ben and Jerry’s with toffee sauce now, can I?

No. So since about April of 2014 I’ve been slowly overcoming three decades of fruit aversion and now will tolerate the consumption of said fresh fruit. Yesterday – and I know how this sounds – I had my first banana in living memory. Two weeks ago I ate my first grapes. The sad thing is it’s one of those situations where I don’t know what the fuss was all about.

Why? WHY?

The core reason for this? As I say, I haven’t a clue. I do remember horrific school dinners where the ‘afters’ was often an apple and a piece of cheese each; the apple we were each given being some horrible bruised thing that looked like the canteen staff had been using it for a quick five-a-side before the start of service. No way was I eating that. I remember dinnerladies (Dinnerladies! What happened to them? A plethora of surrogate mothers threatening to tell your real mum that you were ‘pratting around’ and helping you tie your shoelaces!) giving it the usual “it’s good for you, get it down you” sort of thing. Nothing that looks like it’s been picked off the floor of an orchard just outside Chernobyl can do you good, right?

Similarly, although I can’t attribute the specific cause of why this situation came about in the first place, I think I can attribute why it’s carried on for so long. One is, I’ve come to realise, the fact that ‘fruit flavours’ taste nothing like the real thing. Take banana for example. The flavour I tasted from the banana I ate yesterday is nothing like that from ‘banana flavoured’ sweets, desserts, etc. So when I decided I didn’t like the taste of banana because I didn’t like, say, banana yoghurt, then the problem because worse. The other is that I couldn’t see the purpose when I was younger; what the point was of eating fruit when I could just neck a few vitamins, or drink some juice? Again, another realisation is that actually there’s more to it than that. If I eat fruit, I’m not tucking into biscuits, or cake, or ice cream or… well, you get it.

I’ll be honest, I’m not suddenly swapping the treats for a piece of fruit – that’d be a lie. I still struggle with my junk cravings and until I can break the spell of the Holy Triumvirate of Fat, Flour and Sugar then the battle will continue.

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, dates, grapes, raisins, bananas, kiwi fruit, pineappple, mango… all good. Still can’t hack apple though. A visit to a psychotherapist might be needed for that one.

So there you go, followers. You’ve all been party to a skeleton in my closet. We’ve all got them. This one is just comical.

The Healthy Teacher Project Rides Again!

“The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way.”

Dale Carnegie

11:00 am, Sunday 7th June 2015

I sit here, in a fetching combo of bib shorts, flouro shirt and dinky cycling socks. It’s been a week since I decided the time was right to relaunch my fitness and health efforts, and today is a first big step forward.

During February I was flying. I’d lost about a stone, and was ready to literally get back on the bike. I like cycling, I have a road bike and a mountain bike, and about 18 months ago I was starting to cover 45 miles in one go easily. That all tailed off for some reason and it would take a bit of effort to get back into that level of routine, but with the weight falling off then it would be quite straightforward.

Then the calamities happened. If it could go wrong, it went wrong. I’ll not go into detail here but let’s just say in every aspect of my and my family’s life, problems occurred. Nothing that couldn’t be sorted, but just situations that meant I had to put my life goals on the back burner and concentrate on other’s needs.

Then over April and May, things started to settle down, and our little unit was able to get away for a break in Hornsea. Hornsea is the location of the eastern end of the Trans Pennine Trail, stretching all the way from its western end at Southport, through Liverpool, Manchester, Barnsley, Doncaster, Selby, Hull and then up to the small coastal resort over looking the North Sea.

I have had an ambition for a number of years to attempt riding the whole trail in a single journey. However every year something or someone (usually myself) has held that up, and once again the ambition goes on the shelf.

Seeing the monument that indicates the end of the trail switched something on in my head. I’ll be honest, I said to myself “what are you pissing about at?”. All of a sudden, the opening was there to take the goal back off the shelf. After all, my Ros put it in excellent context: “it’s time to start looking after yourself”. She didn’t mean stop caring about others, but to make sure I was in a position health and fitness-wise that I’d be able to contribute as much as I could for as long as I could. As I stated at the beginning of the aborted earlier series, I’ve not been in good shape for sometime, and my daughter coming along put that into perspective. I want to be a part of her life for as long as possible. Right now, I’m actually going against that goal.

The man with the plan

So, I sat down last week, and put together a plan. It would be physically impossible for me to achieve this goal this year. I’ve barely ridden my bike since August and I’m probably 5 stone too heavy to do such an attempt without killing myself.

Therefore, I had to create a sensible vision for this attempt. Here it is.

By August 1st 2016, I will have rode the Trans Pennine Trail from Southport to Hornsea – 217 miles – in at least 72 hours.

There are some sub-goals that feed from this, but that’s the overarching one. It gives me well over a year to achieve it, and likewise the time to sensibly try and shift that 5 stone. What I’ll need to do is – classically – start small, and slowly build up the miles, whilst being clever about my diet. I’ll have to ‘enjoy the process’ as much as focus on the goal. In fact, I’m not even going to worry about actually doing the trail until Spring 2016 – if I let it dominate my mind then I know I’ll fail.

I’ve only done 5 miles every other day this week. I’ll keep adding a couple of miles to that distance, until eventually I’m well into double figures, hitting about 30 miles by the end of the six weeks holidays. Should I encounter poor weather, I’m getting a turbo trainer set up in my garage so I’ve got no excuse- it’ll mean I can put an hour or two in where needed. When I return to school at the beginning of September, I’ll ramp down to about 15-20 miles every other day, through to February when I’ll start putting the miles back up.

The time to get the real miles in is at the weekends. Come Springtime I need to be doing about 70-100 miles every weekend. This will mean that I’ll be used to at least 70 miles in a day for a 3-day attempt at the whole trail.

Why?

I need a goal. It’s alright to say ‘I’m going to get healthier and fitter’ but I have to quantify that. By doing this, I’ll reshape my body, elevate my fitness to a different level and snap myself out of the dietary fug that I’ve been in for probably about 15 years.

It’ll mean a lot to me, let’s put it that way. It means I can bring over goals into my line of sight, and keep up the standard that I’m setting myself. But I’ve got to get this one done first. As I said before – I’ve got to love the process, and then I can do anything.

8:00pm, Sunday 7th June

I’ve just seen Bradley Wiggins, one of my greatest sporting heroes, smash the Hour Record in Cycling. The guy is about the same age as me, and he’s won the Tour De France, World and Olympic Time Trial and is now the world record holder in the most pure form of the sport. I know I’ve got a slightly different career trajectory going on, but if I could achieve 1% of what he’s done, then I’ll be happy.

10 miles today. Let’s see what the next 12 months brings.

Postscript

If anyone has any training advice, health tips, diet ideas or anything – get in contact. I really would appreciate your help.

The Healthy Teacher Project: Sleep

“Man is a genius when he is dreaming.”

Akira Kurosawa

Still 14 pounds. Doh.

Deep in the bosom of the gentle night is when I search for the light

Ever have that feeling when you’ve not had a lot of sleep, and your day seems to pass you by like you’re watching it on television? I used to get that feeling a lot. I had a phase, for about a month, of waking up in the middle of the night, not being able to settle for a couple of hours and having to come up with ways of using the time. I watched films (Woody Allen for some reason), read books (Philosophy, mostly existentialism) and once wrote a complete and detailed scheme of work in the space of a week, because of the time afforded.

Strangely, not one element of my work suffered. The only thing that tended to happen is I would pass out on the sofa at about 6pm on the dot. Every night. Rather anti-social of me, as my wife would often remind me. So in the interests of marital bliss, I had to do something about it.

Pick up my pen and start to write

The first thing was to write down anything that was still going through my head after the day’s events. As anyone who’s been a HoD knows, that’s often quite a lot of stuff. After a while this helped.

The second – and probably most important – was to get into a routine. Go to bed at exactly the same time, and get up at exactly the same time, including weekends, as much as possible.

The third thing was to make sure I got at least 7 hours sleep. Any less than this, and the whole ‘life as TV show’ thing would start to kick in, and so would anti-social nap time. 8 hours is social norm standard apparently, but that’s an ideal.

I find insight

A did a quick and nasty poll on Twitter recently, and discovered that actually, I have an above average amount of sleep a day. Most responders registered about six hours, with some stating just five. I was shocked. I thought I had less sleep than most (7 is pretty good going at the moment), but it turns out I’m doing quite well.

The thing is, I think this is a worrying situation. Sleep is vital. Ariana Huffington, media giantess, thinks that more sleep is the key to success. If you Google ‘importance of sleep’ there’s about 140 million results telling you how important a bit of shut-eye is. How often do we see students in our classes who have clearly spent all night awake on Facebook or Snapchat, playing on FIFA or GTA and are now dozing through half of our lesson, only for us to start preaching to them about how important sleep is?

Keep the beast in my nature under ceaseless attack

I’ll round up with this final point.

Increasingly these days, teachers have to be sharp as a button. There is no room to coast. The job is mentally demanding enough as it is, and with all the (increasing number of) external factors that determine the success of our efforts, managing all of this requires a brain that is finely tuned and well serviced.

With that in mind, watch this video by Jeff Iliff. I can understand why people only have a small amount of sleep to maximise their day – famously the lovely Margaret Thatcher was one of them – but considering the points made in that talk, you could do worse than getting a decent amount of kip every night.

Your teaching might thank you for it.

The Healthy Teacher Project: Finish Your Tea

Error is the school we learn in.

Marty Rubin

14 pounds so far. That’s a stone.

Dear reader, it’s been a 5 week journey of highs, lows, ups and downs. But I have a confession to make. I haven’t exercised this week. I had a go at the 7 minute workout on Monday, but since then I’ve been so tired I’ve barely had the energy to consume calories (hey, actually that might be a good thing), never mind burn them.

This is a bad state of affairs, I know. It’s the first slip in this journey and it’s one that I’m not especially proud of. I will not, however, dwell on it. No, dear reader, I shall plough on anew.

You’re feeling very sleepy…

I can’t believe that I’m admitting this, but here goes.

I have long had a battle with my weight. I’m not exactly what you’d call morbidly obese, but I’m hardly a cut specimen of muscle tone awesomeness either. I think the phrase is ‘heavily built’. I mentioned earlier in this series that I’ve tried everything – everything – to get back to a moderately healthy weight, with little success.

One of the nadirs of these attempts was purchasing the book ‘I Can Make You Thin’ by hypnotist, former radio DJ, life coach and neuro-linguistic programming expert Paul McKenna. As I say, it was not one of the best judged moves I made, but still, hear me out.

I am a great believer in the power of mindset over one’s life. There is an even longer story about my reasoning behind this, but I’ll spare you that. All you need to know is that I’m interested in how the brain triggers one’s actions and what you can do to coach that for positive benefit.

So, this book was basically £10 of being heavy on platitudes regards Mr McKenna’s wonderful advice, but light on the actual advice. The mindfulness CD that came with it was frankly comical, I really struggled to get in a relaxed state because it was so difficult not to chuckle. If you’ve seen the Alan Partridge episode where he listens to his own relaxation tape, you’ll know the score.

There was, however, one piece of advice that struck me the most though. At meal times, McKenna recommended, whatever is in front of you, move a portion of it to one side, and then don’t eat that portion. In other words, you can eat what you like, but don’t eat that portion you’ve moved to one side. Bin it at the end of the meal.

Now, if you’re like me and grew up in the 1980s (especially if your local area had fallen on hard times) you’ll recall that if you were sniffy about what meal your parents put in front of you, or you didn’t finish it, you’d get the line “There’s children in Ethiopia who are starving, be grateful for what you’ve got”. I don’t disagree with that at all. But I’m absolutely certain there’s a generation of 30 to 40 year-olds absoutely fearful of not finishing a meal because of such conditioning. Sounds daft, but I totally feel that way.

Therefore, the idea of consciously wasting about a third of your meal that you’d prepared or someone had prepared for you was either a) wasteful, b) rude or c) both. It was hard to, well forgive the pun, stomach.

The book didn’t last long. The CD was used as part of a method of preventing birds eating grass seed on a neighbour’s lawn. I might as well have burned the money, and once again I was on to the next craze (incidentally, cutting added sugar, sweets, cakes and biscuits out of my diet. I think my brain stopped working due to the lack of blood glucose).

And… you’re back in the room

But – the whole eating less thing resonated, and there’s a big reason for it. Asking the canteen ladies to put less chips on my plate is not that hard. Not eating all of my rice/mash/other starchy item with my meal might be wasteful but at least it’s not the expensive (but totally better for you) meat or fish that I’m wasting. Ultimately though – I’m still eating what I like. I don’t feel guilty about what I eat any more. I just know when to stop – and that’s the biggest thing.

I’ve come to realise that much of why people struggle with diets is that they miss what they enjoy – which is usually an evil trinity of flour, fat and sugar combined – start to feel guilty about that and then there’s a weird psycho-drama ultimately resulting in the diet failing.

So, I resolved to stop feeling guilty about what I eat. I just eat less. Try it.

The Healthy Teacher Project: Feel The Pressure

Pressure creates diamonds.

General Patton

I’ve lost 13 pounds in four weeks. BOOM.

WARNING: This post quotes poetry, philosophy, the Bible and other esoteric stuff. I haven’t flipped or anything. Enjoy!

Just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in!

I sit here, on the last day of January, feeling very contemplative. I’ll not go into detail, but basically this past 30-odd days has thrown every possible obstacle my family’s way. We have had to summon up every ounce of resolve to see the month through. Finally we’re seeing the light, but it’s been a veritable Gotthard Tunnel to trudge through.

It’s been very tempting at times to go on a wild binge, eat and drink what I like and to hell with it. I’m a total skeptic when it comes to luck – I think you make your own – but lately I’ve been thinking I might as well just accept my fate.

But…. but. Where’s the fun in that? I remember reading Rudyard Kipling’s If… at my dear grandad’s funeral, and there’s a line that constantly resonates every time I hear it:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

I’ve never been one to over-celebrate my successes. A la Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy, the turbulent times in my life linger longer in my memory not because I’m a pessimist, but because it means life’s triumphs feel ever so much sweeter as a result. Just like the trials of Job, it keeps me grounded.

Anyway…

The diet (if that’s what you can call it, because I’ll be honest I’ve been eating some junk too) still seems to be going well. But now it’s time to take it up a notch. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for exercise!

Now originally I’d planned to put a complete regime in place – diet, exercise, mindfulness, the lot – but I had a change of heart when I realised that it’s better to get each one right at a time rather than stumble through everything at once. Now the diet seems to be having an impact, it’s time to move on to the next step.

I’m going to be working on a three-pronged approach.

  1. The Seven Minute Workout. This will be my attempt at strength and flexibility training. I’ve always been a strong person, but my focus on my career has meant that I’ve not been working out as much as I should and I’m turning into a bit of a wuss. When you can’t lift a few bags of shopping 10 yards without struggling, it’s time to sort things out.
  2. The Couch to 5k programme. This will be my attempt at improving my cardio fitness. I had a false start at this before Christmas, but it’s quite easy to follow and I can do it in the gym whilst the weather decides on what it wants to do.
  3. Cycling. I’ve got two bikes – one road, one mountain. I’m going to try and get out on at least one of these at the weekends. I’ve got a plan in mind to do something significant in the summer and a bit of long-distance cycling at the weekends will only accelerate me towards my goals.

The overall idea is that I’m going to do some sort of workout every day. In the week this will be the Seven Minute Workout or Couch to 5k. The reason I’ll leave cycling to the weekend is simply because to cycle any reasonable distance I need a couple of hours. I will definitely be recording my progress on a ‘Don’t Break The Chain’ calendar so I’m building a habit.

Delicious sleep

Another thing that seems to be working wonders is my Lumie Alarm Clock. I’ve had it for a month now and it’s brilliant. Not once – not once – have I had to get up with the alarm, because the sunrise function has woke me up before hand, and I’ve never felt like I’ve been shocked awake as a result. My mood has been a lot better in the mornings and I’ve felt a lot fresher. If there’s one thing that I’d absolutely recommend out of all I’m doing, it’s getting one of these bad boys. Some people swear by iPhone apps, others by their FitBits. I’m sticking with this.

Even when in recent weeks where I’ve barely had about five hours’ sleep a night, I’ve felt better than usual because of how gentle the alarm clock is. It’s bizarre as well, because it doesn’t have to go too bright before I’m up. Only a couple of times has Ros given me a nudge in the ribs to ‘turn that bloody thing down’.

Finally

Thanks to everyone who’s sent their best wishes over this month. It’s been hard to deal with but it’s good to know that there are such caring people out there. Even through the relatively anonymous medium of social networking, compassion truly does exist!

The Healthy Teacher Project: Mornings

“Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.”

Lemony Snicket

I’ve lost 5 pounds this week. That’s 8 pounds in total. Good eh?

The amazing fact is that we’ve had takeaway three times this week, due to a busy schedule and one, two or all three of us being unwell at some point. Nothing like a Beef Chow Mein to keep the doctor at bay. Anyway…

The funniest part of this week in regards to my goal for fitness is dealing with the dinnerladies in the school canteen – sorry – restaurant (!). On the menu one day was roast chicken, stuffing and veg, the veg being potatoes and carrots. After asking if I could have something else instead of the potato, I just got more carrots. A lot more carrots. In fact, it was kind of a plate of carrots with some chicken and stuffing. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, but it just looked a bit odd: “Hey up, the new fella’s just got a plate of carrots and gravy – weirdo”.

Also, asking for less chips with my fish on Friday was like commiting a cardinal sin. It reminded one of ‘Brilliant!’s dad off the Fast Show: “CHIPS! Chips are nice, why not have chips?”. Now, back in the mists of time my mum worked in a chippy, so I am well aware of the pleasures of a good chip, but they’re hardly going to be cornerstone of a nutritious diet (© Jules Winfield). Luckily enough she didn’t pile carrots on in lieu of the chip deficit.

Since a) I’m busy at work and b) I’m being fed – it’s clear that boredom eating, my greatest failing, is being put on the shelf. I don’t even look on enviously at students queuing up for dinner when I’m on duty anymore, because I know mine’s coming.

Start as you mean to go on

I mentioned in a previous post that I was pretty much going to try and simplify my diet so that I didn’t have to think too much about what I was eating. Now since I’m getting a free dinner at school, that’s not happening, but I can be clever about what I have.

Mornings though? Well it’s a veritable groundhog day.

I’m up at 5.45. It’s been easier to do this now I’ve got Lumie alarm clock, which has one of those sunrise lamps. I get washed, dressed, and then put the kettle on. Whilst the kettle is boiling I have a pint of water (apparently it’s good for getting the metabolism going and rehydrating after 8 hours without water – it seems to be working). Then it’s either bran flakes, porridge or yoghurt for breakfast.

Whilst I’m sorting what I eat out, I use an Aeropress to make a coffee. This caffiene jolt tends to be the only one I have in a day. There’ve been times in the past I’ve had 4 or 5 teas or coffees a day and not been able to sleep. It’s for that very reason I’m limiting myself.

The same thing happens every day. It sets me up. In all it takes 30 minutes to get going, and then I’m off. In that I spend 10 minutes reading the news or a book, just to try and switch my brain on.

My commute is about 40 minutes. Rather than having something inane on the radio – no longer do I listen to Radio 2 (variable quality, Mr Evans), Radio 5 (depressing and aggravating) or Talksport (gah). Instead I listen to podcasts: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, 99% Invisible, Mayo and Kermode’s Film Show, and sometimes the How Stuff Works show. The reason for this is that I wanted to make sure I was feeding my interest in general knowledge whilst making my commute more bearable. It’s working so far.

Benefits?

There is some comfort in routine. It’s less stressful and means I’m able to concentrate on getting myself in the right frame of mind. By listening to a podcast to and from work it means I’m only worrying about work at work, and I can enjoy my start to the day. Hence my mood is better, my stress levels are lower and consequently, I feel healthier. Isn’t that the whole point of this?

The Healthy Teacher Project: First Principles

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.”

Scott Adams

You’ve got to have a system

I’m not the best when it comes to systematic thinking. I often work in a stream of consciousness sort of fashion when thrashing out solutions to problems before piecing together a final action. That can work well, because all the possibilities are often considered before a solution occurs. But often over deliberation takes place and I’m not so confident in the value and effectiveness of my response.

It’s a similar situation with my health. I know all the good things and what to do in order to get my weight down and my fitness up but I spend so king trying out different things I often fail very easily.

What I’ve learned for this project is that the process is more important than the solution. It doesn’t matter what healthy diet I eat, as long as I eat one. It’s trivial what exercise I take part in, as long as I do it. This could be applied to a range of elements of this whole project, but you get the gist.

The core themes

So how will I accomplish this whole healthy teacher thing then?

1. A reasonably good diet. Nothing stupid that’s going to drive me to kebab pizzas by the end of the month but likewise nothing that’s going to be a hindrance to everything else.

2. Daily exercise. I’ve talked about doing the Couch To 5k plan, and I’m going to mix this up with some bodyweight exercises and cycling when the weather permits.

3. Productivity planning. At the start of every day, outlining three things that are going to be done before the end of play.

4. Daily reflection. At the end of every day, recording my thoughts and achievements in relation to the past 24 hours and identifying where I’ve done well and what to do next.

5. Quality family time. Enough said really.

6. Development time. One should always strive to get better at what ever one does. An hour a day will allow this to happen.

The meta-system

To tie all of this together, I’ll be using Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity trick, called ‘Don’t Break The Chain’. It’s quite simple.

Whatever resolution you’re trying to meet, every day you manage to meet it, you record this on a calendar. The idea is that you try and make a continuous chain of days where you’ve met your resolution. The longer the chain, the better you’re doing.

I’ve got an app called Daily Deeds where I can do this automatically, so I can track my progress. I’ve tried all sorts of systems in the past, but when I was training for the charity sportive I did two years ago, it was the system I used to monitor my training. For something so surprisingly simple it’s incredibly effective.

When to start?

Monday 5th January. It begins then. It’s the first day of my new job, therefore it’s the first day of what will be my usual routine, and so it’s important I’m in that mindset from the off.

Wish me luck!

The Healthy Teacher Project: In The Beginning

“Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded
wheelchair.”

Dorothy Parker

What do you get the man who wants for nothing?

I’m married, I have a daughter, a roof over my head, a decent job, the trappings of middle-class life and a multitude of friends to enjoy it with. I manage to get away at least once a year and be it camping in the Peak District or sunning it up on the Mediterranean it’s more than most people get these days. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, but as I move towards my mid-30s, things are going pretty well.

What do you get the man who wants for nothing? His health.

I’ll be honest, I’m not in great shape. Over the last 15 years a combination of the fat, flour and sugar triumvirate, copious amounts of lager and a predilection for slobbing on the sofa have turned this once 1500m running, football and rugby playing young man into a card-carrying member of the Beer Gut Association.

Been there, done that…

It’s not to say that I don’t know how to look after myself. I do. Two years ago I trained for a 35-mile charity bike ride around the Peaks, climbing ridiculous hills (including some of the Tour De France route in the north of Sheffield!) and wowing myself with how I coped with it. I’ve got a gym membership, a road bike and a mountain bike, a few fitness apps and plenty of sports kit. So why don’t I bother?

The reason is, I guess, that it’s easy to do nothing. There are amazing parallels between one’s health and one’s career. The only way to become a great teacher is to work hard at it. The people who find behavior management easy do so because they work at it every day. Those with the best subject knowledge never stop learning. The best questioners hone their technique constantly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – hard work breeds success. Any other route is cheating or luck; I’m not prepared to do the former and I’m amazingly deficient in the latter.

In order to achieve some semblance of health and fitness then, I’ve got to work at it. I need to suck it up and deal with the fact that the horizontal life of eating, drinking and rotting my brain in front of the gogglebox has to stop.

I had a bit of a false start last year. I paid for some personal training sessions and managed in the space of five months to lose a couple of stone. Then darling daughter was born and all of my resources went into getting the family through the first six (demanding) months of her life. But now we’re all in a good routine, it’s time to try to take up that cause again.

Three is the magic number

When considering how to begin this ‘fix my health’ project, I realised that it’s not going to be enough to concentrate on just my physical health – there’s my mental and emotional health to take into account as well.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t me confessing to some demons that haunt my world (although we all have our foibles) – I just think that an aggregation of improvements in the whole sphere of health and fitness will have exponential benefits. So as well as looking at my diet and exercise through this (hopefully continuing) series, I’ll be considering things like mindfulness, organisation, habit-forming and managing stress. They all contribute to the greater health – or otherwise – of oneself, and by taking all of this into account, I feel that I’ll be able to improve quicker.

Now, this is going to take a lot of effort. It’s almost going to be a career in itself, except it’s not a paid job and I’ll both be the worker and the boss. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, if all the other parts of my life seem to be in place at the moment, then perhaps it’s the best time to go for it?

Hold up, wait a minute…

Before I start, I make no promises. Nothing I post up here will claim to be proper scientific advice and if it works it only works for me. I’m not going to try any fad diets or programmes, or mad fitness regimes, all I’m going to be doing is trying to make small but significant changes and looking at the results. If it works, great. If I crash and burn, I’m not going to beat myself over it.

What I will be doing is setting myself goals on a monthly basis. As the saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time. Each month will be a bite.

So my goals for the month of January 2015 are:

  • Set up and start a habit-forming system to record my progress
  • Start the Couch to 5K running programme (I know this is a fitness regime but it’s been highly recommended because it’s relatively easy to get started and continue).
  • Lose at least 8 pounds.
  • No alcohol (this will be under constant review).
  • Start writing a reflective journal

Up there are a mixture of targets for physical, emotional and mental well-being. Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at each of these goals, how I progress against them and the impact on my teaching practice.

I’ll of course be continuing the other series on this blog, but this is the biggie for 2015. Strap in and enjoy the ride!